California’s Heartland: The Best Places to Eat Along Highway 99


California’s agricultural artery, CA-99, runs through the fertile San Joaquin Valley along side the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Rather than movie studio tours, this showcases the “other California,” farms that grow much of our nation’s produce.  With so many food options, it can be hard to figure out the best places to eat along Highway 99, but we’ve done the research and found what we consider to be some of the Central Valley’s most excellent regional restaurants.

Modesto & Merced

In Modesto, you have the option to go classic at the Scenic Drive-In, or go unique at the Chinese-German Noah’s Hof Brau. It’s a tough choice, both places are excellent. For dessert head down the road to Merced and get a root beer milkshake at the H&W Drive-In, a local place that still provides carhop service and homemade root beer.

Fresno & Hanford

The Valley has lots of great Mexican seafood options, but Don Pepe Taqueria in Fresno is the standout. A slight, but worthwhile detour to the frozen in time town of Hanford requires a frozen treat, like the sky-scraping S.O.S. sundae at the 90-year old Superior Dairy Products Co.

Down the road in Tulare, one of our favorite little roadside curiosities is the 1951 Air Force training jet, the body of which serves as a dining room for Pitty’s BBQ. They offer juicy, smoky burgers cooked over oak logs.

Food Trucks & Fine Dining in Bakersfield

The CA-99 highway ends just past the old honky-tonk town of Bakersfield. There you have two options for a memorable dinner. If you’re in a hurry, stop at the Chevron station parking lot for some drowned tortas and potato tacos at Loncheria Otro Rollo. If you have a couple of hours for dinner, don’t miss the unique experience of eating at the James Beard Awarded Basque Boarding House, Noriega Hotel. Don’t leave Noriega’s without trying the pickled tongue.


Scenic Drive-In

Scenic Drive-In is a Central California burger shack that is unique in its liberal use of fresh jalapeno peppers.


Noah’s Hof Brau

Noah's Hof Brau is an old-fashioned Modesto, California, sandwich carvery that has morphed into a Chinese-American cafeteria. BBQ pork is superb.


H&W Drive-In

H&W is a working carhop drive-in in Merced, California, with house-made root beer and old-style burgers and fries.


Don Pepe Taqueria

Don Pepe is a Fresno, California, maverick Mexican restaurant that serves perfectly poached shrimp in many forms.


Superior Dairy Products Company

Superior Dairy Products is a step back in time -- a creamery that serves Brobdingnagian scoops and sky-high sundaes.

Must Eats


Pitty’s of Tulare, Calilfornia, feels like a family backyard BBQ, except for the fact that you eat inside an airplane.


Loncheria Otro Rollo

Loncheria Otro Rollo is a tiny red trailer in a gas station parking lot that serves authentic Guadalajaran sandwiches drowned in fiery sauce.


Noriega Hotel

A pillar of the California Basque community in Bakersfield, Noriega Hotel is an old boarding house that still serves three family-style meals a day.